My first Facebook friend

Updated: 25 December, 2019 12:53 IST | |

The story of how Sheba became her mother's first Facebook friend.

Pics/Illustration @_megharao, Instagram
Pics/Illustration @_megharao, Instagram

It's on Facebook that Sheba realises that her mother is a sad woman. Over the years, a distance has grown between them. Sheba had left Iraq just before 9/11. After that, of course, there was no possibility of them meeting. Every year, since 2001, Sheba had gone to the US Embassy. Every single time they had said the same thing to her: Visa Denied. If she left the US to go to Iraq, she would not be allowed back in. And her mother? Well, she suffered no better fate. She couldn't even get an appointment with the US Embassy in Baghdad.

Mother and daughter have not seen each other in over six years. During the first few years, Sheba had felt like her mother had abandoned her.

During Manhattan's long winters, when the wind cut through her cheap 50-dollar winter jacket, Sheba longed to wear the sweaters her mother knitted for her before the cold set in. They always smelled of lavender. When her boss made her work on fourth of July weekends while her colleagues celebrated in Cape May, only because he knew she was dependent on the company's work visa, Sheba yearned for the sweet bite of kleicha her mother baked during Eid-Al-Adha. When she came home to an empty studio apartment in Queens, all she wanted was her mother's hug, warmer than the sun on their terrace.

Megha Rao
Megha Rao

Where had her mother been when Sheba most needed her? Sheba looks at the photos on her mother's timeline––baby Sheba in her arms, four-year-old Sheba taking her first dip in the pool, Sheba at her sixth birthday party, seven-year-old Sheba riding a pony, Sheba at the airport bidding her only family, her mother, goodbye to study in America. She contrasts these with her mother's posts––'Eating alone in the dark' or 'Can't hear the TV with the guns outside'. Saddam's fall has not made life better for locals.

Sheba sees that there are no Likes or Comments for the photos or posts. Her mother must have created the profile only to connect with Sheba. What's the point of this? That life, her former life, the sheer struggle and uncertainty of it, seems unreal to her now, as she sits in her one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East side, goes to work for Goldman Sachs on Wall Street and wears the ring Peter has given her on their engagement. Sheba has no need for her mother in her shimmering new life.

Meghna Pant
Meghna Pant

She is about to delete her mother's request when she sees her profile photo. It is from Sheba's last Christmas in Iraq. They are standing in their tiny living room, facing the camera, awkward in their pose. There is no Christmas tree or infant Jesus. They are not Christians. But her mother believes that it is humanity that festivals celebrate, not religion. So, behind them, is the pile of dried thorns they will burn to ashes to portend the good luck that the following year will bring.

Her mother believes such things as well. For wasn't it just that morning that she had pawned all her jewelry so that Sheba could get out of Iraq? How could Sheba forget? In whatever shape or form, love always finds a way back, her mother told her every time she caught her staring at their deceased father's photo. Now there is a way that Sheba can bring her mother's love back into her life. So, she clicks on 'Confirm Friend' to become her mother's first Facebook friend.

Meghna Pant is the award-winning author of Happy Birthday, One & A Half Wife, and The Trouble With Women, among others

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First Published: 22 December, 2019 06:00 IST

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